'Born On That Day' (M.Maher) : The Rising Band
A Word for the Community : Luke 2: 1 - 20 : Rev Kevin Howe
'The First Noel' (arr.M.Wilberg) : Chancel Choir
'What a Glorious Night' (Sidewalk Prophets) : The Rising Band
PREGNANT PAUSE: Afraid Not : Rev Courtney Richards
'O Holy Night' (A.Adams) : Todd Maxwell & Susie Monger Daugherty
The Service of Candles
Luke 2: 1 – 20
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
We made it! He’s here! That’s it. That’s Christmas!
Now it’s just time for dinner, and a night’s sleep, and Santa Claus, and time with people you love (or at least with people you like) and more food, and all the big gift reveals (be sure to let me know who gets the red-bowed Lexus in this December-To-Remember Celebration), and maybe some time to just sit on the couch, and then church one more time next weekend and then it’ll be the new year.
We made it! He’s here! That’s it. That’s Christmas!
I mean, that’s all we want to hear tonight, isn’t it? Maybe the song we love, and light a candle – carefully, you guys, pay attention to the candles – and hear that the baby is born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in the manger. What else do we need?
Maybe just a story first?
As you know or have seen if you’ve been with us in worship during the Sundays of Advent for the last several years, we set our creche on the communion table, so that it is front and center throughout our worship season. Creche is French word for crib … it’s the nativity scene, with the characters who play out in the story. Each Sunday through Advent, at Christmas, and on Epiphany, we add to our scene as the story unfolds. We ask children to bring these characters forward; we close our service each week with a focus on the figures who tell us more of the story.
We begin with Mary, chosen as the God-bearer. Mary, who is Luke’s “model of obedient, contemplative discipleship. She is not defined by her biological motherhood but blessed for her belief (1:45), as are all who ‘hear the word of God and obey it’ (11:27).” Mary births the Lord into the world. Her first born son, a gift like the first fruits of the harvest, the first seat at a banquet, the first choice among all others. She reminds us that we each have a role to play in bringing Christ into the world.
The nativity story continues as another character takes his place. Joseph, the carpenter, steps into the divine dream for the world, and carries it forward with uncertain steps, yet constant faith. Already a man of heart and compassion, he crafted a plan to be sure Mary wasn’t scandalized. And then God’s messenger intervened. And Joseph responded with faith and not fear. Joseph reminds us that home is where we make it, and that the Prince of Peace may find a home in us.
We come on the third week to bring the shepherds as they watch. We have this image of shepherds as dirty and mistrusted, and perhaps in some places and times that was true. But we also see in the Hebrew Scriptures where shepherds are the heart of a community, and men like Moses and David are both associated with shepherds. So we bring a shepherd to the scene, and we have to admit that much like them, we’re never fully prepared for the glory of God to surround us. And yet we know that it will, and that we will be different because of it.
After a Sunday filled with huge sounds of praise – with drum and bell, with guitar and voice, with band and choir and orchestra all around – we come tonight, in the same space, that somehow feels a little different … and have added the central figure. We’ve invited Jesus in … into the room, into our lives, into the world, again.
Two Sundays ago, as she was leaving the sanctuary with her friends for their morning of Children Worship and Wonder, Kaylee stopped at the back door and asked me a question: Remember last year at Christmas when I carried the Baby Jesus in? Yes, of course, I said. Wellll … and she tilted her head and paused and looked at me. Well … I wondered if I could do it again this year. But I want Sophia to do it with me this time. We want to do it together.
Now, this is usually a pretty impromptu thing, and I usually try to invite different children every time, or at least in different combinations. But COME ON. Like I’m going to say no to that question! Can I carry in the baby Jesus, and can I have a friend do it with me?
Earlier today, in thinking about who we would see at each hour tonight, and all of the roles that are played in making this service happen … deacons to serve communion, receive offering, hand out candles … musicians to move us through this special night in ways only they can … each of you, gathered here, making worship a true gathering of the faithful … I also thought about children to ask to carry in the Baby Jesus figure.
And so I asked Bodhi and Parker’s mom if they would. And she immediately said yes, that they loved doing it last year. And I thought to last year, and them walking in together, brother and sister with such confidence and excitement.
This is usually a pretty impromptu thing, and I usually try to invite different children every time, or at least in different combinations. But COME ON. On a night like this? You want to be READY. And they were. So could they do it again?
Um, yes. Yes you can. Of course. Because you have just made the whole entire point of Christmas Eve:
Jesus is ready to join us. We are ready to have him here. We are eager to get him to his rightful place. And we want others to be there with us.
Yes. That’s what we want in this world, and yes, friends, as we’ve heard in scripture and learned already tonight in this room … our little children will lead us.
And Mary, really, is still a child herself.
Mary, daughter of Anna and Joachim, a descendant of Leah and a member of the tribe of Judah. Given her heritage, she would know the history and the scriptures, she would know that it was the angel of death who went through the king’s camp and caused soldiers to die; she would know an angel wrestles with Jacob and leaves him limping; she would know an angel causes fire to appear in front of Gideon.
So when you’re already in a precarious spot (unwed, pregnant), to then also have an ANGEL appear, say to you ‘Do not be afraid’, give you the most stunning and unbelievable announcement ever … and then to still be the one to say ‘let it be with me according to your word’ … that is faith over fear. That’s Christmas.
Just before the birth story we heard tonight, Luke tells Mary’s story within Elizabeth’s. The angel announces this astonishing thing to Mary, who replies at first with … ‘How?’ How can this be? But Gabriel’s answer to her ‘how’ question is not to give her the science … his answer is to say that Elizabeth is also expecting, even in her age. For nothing will be impossible with God. Your kin will be in this season with you. And Mary rushes to Elizabeth, and her cousin addresses her the same way the angel has already: “Greetings, favored one. Blessed are you among women.” There it is. The hope that casts out fear. Knowing she won’t be alone is the antidote to being afraid.
That’s for us, too. God is here. We made it! Jesus is here. That’s it. That’s Christmas.
We hear tonight about the angel going to the shepherds in the fields. It reminds us that the word of God, and the announcement of that Word, is going to happen in places that are less than obvious. The word of God, from the messengers of the Lord, proclaimed on a hillside in the middle of nowhere, to a bunch of guys no one would expect to be favored with much at all, let alone with news like this.
The word of God is proclaimed here tonight. But the sermon is only preached in this building. It is heard in the world. The word of God is made alive and real outside of the church walls. Which means it should live in us. Which means we need not be afraid. That word of God will come to us, and we need not be afraid to live like it has. God didn’t wait for the shepherds to get the news through the grapevine. God came right to them, as angel and then as a messiah. God coming to us in the world means we don’t have to wait to get to church to meet God, or for God to meet us. The news is given to the unlikeliest, anywhere. Like us.
God coming to the shepherds, who are fringe people, and questionable, is God’s way of reminding us that what we see as the world order doesn’t matter. Who or what we think is in control isn’t (especially when we think it’s us). What we think is set and planned can all be undone by the vulnerability and surprise of God’s reaching into our lives.
You know, this wouldn’t have happened … the savior would not have been born in the City of David, in Bethlehem, if Joseph and Mary hadn’t gotten to where they needed to be. The census requirement made that location happen. So here’s a thought: When we are where we’re supposed to be, God is born among us.
God shows up through the pain of childbirth, the blood and sweat of a teenage girl, the fear of a couple who have been told, but still have no idea, what’s coming next. How can we be anything other than certain that God is not just with us but for us, steadfast and sure and longing for us to be steadfast and sure when we tell the story too.
We speak the unspeakable by putting it in the voice of angels. The name of God was too sacred to pronounce, the closeness of God was too unfathomable to imagine. So a divine being intercedes, to bring news of joy, peace … to settle our fearful souls. Where can we be angels, messengers, God-bearers, home-makers, story-tellers, hope-bringers in this world of ours?
Can we start tonight?
We have a church member who faithfully writes on the Connection Card each week. Listing only initials, they list those I’m assuming are friends, family, even themselves, and then notes a word or two next to each: ACM, peace, hope; KD, confidence, trust. Sometimes it’s one or two, sometimes it’s several, but every time, every week, it makes me pause, and think What deep faith. What true prayerfulness. What a great gift this dear one has offered to their beloveds, and what a lesson in constancy and hope they are teaching this pastor.
Tonight, I pray we’ll celebrate more than the beauty and peace of Christmas. I hope we’ll celebrate the interruption and disruption of it all, too.
There is no room in the inn. But a way is made, to a manger. Once we find room, once we make room, God’s peace comes. Christ will be born, one way or the other. It’s just a question of where.
The shepherds heard, came, saw, and went. Their whole purpose was to see and know the child. Their response was to tell about him. And they did it – they showed up, and they heard, and they went, and they told – together.
When we think we can’t … God says we can.
If we long for more … God says it’s coming.
Though we look for it in our little corner … God reminds us that it’s a broader view than we can imagine.
When we hear what can be … God says yes, even for you.
If we wonder how and if … God offers us others to be by our side.
Though we wonder if we’ll find peace … God reminds us that hope, and love, and joy are action words too.
Thank you for listening to the story tonight … but most of all thank you for being part of it.
We made it! He’s here! Do not be afraid. That’s it. That’s Christmas.
 Jane Schaberg, ‘Luke’, The Women’s Bible Commentary (Newsom & Ringe, eds., WJK 1992) p279
 Amy-Jill Levine, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford 2011), p101-102
 Lindsay Hardin Freeman, Bible Women (Forward Movement 2014), p401
 Meyers, Craven, Kramer, eds., Women in Scripture (Houghton Mifflin 2000), p116-118